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The dairy cattle population in the Maltese Islands is about 9,000 milking cows. The cattle breed is roughly 85% Holstein and 15% Friesian and artificial insemination is predominantly used. The milk yield per cow per year is approx. 53000 kilos. Cow nutrition consists of 40-50% dry forage (whole crop wheat hay) and imported concentrate (maize, barley, feed supplements etc). Cows are housed in semi-covered yards with no grazing land. Milking is carried out by portable milking equipment or by a pipeline method, or, on larger farms, in milking parlours. Milk is cooled in churns or in bulk tanks. Farms are kept generally by family labour, although a few farmers have fulltime employees. At present, dairy producers in the Maltese Island produce around 35% of Maltas dairy requirements. Total consumption of dairy produce is estimated to be 140,000 tons, of which about 50,000 tons are produced locally, broken down as follows: Cows milk 46,000 tons Sheeps milk 2,500 tons Goats milk 1,500 tons.

Each producer has a fixed quota which is reviewed annually. No direct sales of milk are allowed except for calf maintenance. The amount of milk used for this purpose is very limited because milk replacement powder is normally imported. There is also very little consumption of milk on the farm itself since the milk has to be pasteurised. Some cows milk and practically all the sheeps milk is turned directly into bejniet (cheeselets) and this milk is not included in the quota.

At the farm Dairy cows are milked twice a day, producing about 18 litres of milk per day. Milking can be done by hand or by machinery. The milking machine removes all the milk from the cows udder under suction in 5 to 10 minutes. Milk then flows into a cooler, which stores the bulk milk at a low temperature. This

slows done the reproduction rate of any contaminating bacteria and therefore the rate at which the milk turns sour. From the farm, milk is transported to the dairy, either in traditional stainless steel churns or in small bowsers.

At the dairy Milk is weighed and inspected. Farmers are paid according to the quantity and quality of milk they supply. Samples of milk from each herd are taken to the lab, where they are checked for quality, bacteriological cleanliness and fat content. Meanwhile, the milk is pumped into a clarifier, which removes debris from the milk by centrifugation. The milk then moves through a cooler, which lowers the temperature of the milk, and into tanks for temporary storage. Pasteurisation of milk is the next step. The milk is heated rapidly to 75oC and kept at this temperature for 15 seconds, after which the milk is rapidly cooled to 4oC. The pastuerised milk is then passed through a homogeniser which breaks dwon the fat component of the milk into very small globules. The milk is then stored in other tanks for further processing. Liquid products Fresh white milk After pasteurization, fresh milk is packed in cartons. A use-by date is printed on the cartons. Another machine picks groups of cartons and places them into crates, which are eventually stored in a cold store. The following morning, the milk is distributed to retailers. Fresh flavoured milk Flavoured pasteurised milk is produced by adding flavour and sweetener to the fresh milk. A homogeniser breaks down the fat globules in the milk into smaller, uniform globules. This teatment prevents the milk fat from rising to form a cream line at the surface of the milk. The milk is then filled in the cartons by a filling machine. Skimmed milk and cream The fat in the milk is found as globules and since these are less dense than the watery part of the milk, they will slowly rise upwards. This process can be quickenend by a separator, which is essentially a large centrifuge. The centrifugal forces separate the cream from the skimmed milk. These two products are then filled in different cartons. Locally produced skimmed milk is 0.3% fat; whole milk is 3.5% fat.

Yoghurt production The yoghurt making process starts with the addition of milk powder to fresh milk to give the final product a thicker consistency. The mix is heated to 90oC by means of a heat exchanger to kill any contaminating bacteria, homogenized and pumped into a vat. Here two different species of bacteria are added to the milk, which is incubated at 30oC for 12 hours. The bacteria convert the milk lactose into lactic acid and in the process also form by-products which give yoghurt its characteristic taste and aroma. The production of lactic acid increases the acidity of the milk mix and this causes the milk protein to coagulate, froming a gel, which we call yoghurt. The yoghurt is then stirred, fruit is sometimes added and the resultant product is filled in tubs. Cheese production Ricotta Liquid milk is mixed with milk powder to increase the total solid content. The mix is stored temporarily before it is pumped into the cheese vat. Here bacteriologically clean sea water is mixed with the milk and the temperature of the mix is raised to about 84oC while constantly being stirred. The combination of high temperatures, salt and calcium destabalizes the milk protein forming a coagulum, which is known as curd. The curd is transferred out of the remaining liquid (the whey) and put into baskets. The ricotta whey is composed of salty water and the lactose component of the starting milk. The baskets are then closed, cooled and sold to retailers in bulk. Mozzarella Milk, rennet and starter bacteria are mixed in special vat in which the mixture is incubated. The rennet coagulates the protein, while the starter bacteria increases the acidity, resulting in the formation of the curd, which is then cut up into fine pieces and put inside a stretching machine. This machine uses hot water to heat the curd up to 60oC. This softened curd is then stretched mechanically and shaped in a mould. The mozzarella is then cooled, brined and packed. bejniet (cheeselets) bejniet are prepared and served in a variety of forms: pickled, salted, peppered or dried, or as a plain, fresh cheeselet. bejniet are a key element of Maltese cuisine. They are used as an ingredient in the traditional Maltese form of minestrone soup, soppa tal-armla (widows soup). They are also served with the fresh, local sourdough bread (oba tal-Malti) or ftira (unleavened bread) for breakfast,

Peppered gbejniet

and are a staple component in the ubiquitous Maltese appetizer platter, along with bigilla, a tapenade of dried broad beans, sun-dried or fresh tomatoes, capers, olives, Maltese sausage, traditional Maltese water crackers, kapunata and grilled vegetables. Lately, Maltese restaurants have revived the custom of using bejniet rather than ricotta cheese as a filling for qassatat (pastries) and ravjul (ravioli). The taste of bejniet is unique and they are very sought after by the locals and foreign visitors. Traditionally, bejniet were made from goats or sheeps cheese with the addition of rennet made using the stomach of an unweaned kid or lamb . The bejniet were then formed in hurdles made of local, dried reeds, and dried in small ventilated rooms, with windows protected by a special mesh mosquito net, or on the roof in a qanni (cage with special mesh mosquito net). Nowadays, bejniet are also made from cows milk and formed in plastic hurdles.

Dried reed hurdles bejniet drying in a qanni

Basic recipe for bejniet: Rennet is added to goats or sheeps milk, stirred and left for about one hour to coagulate. When the milk coagulates, the curd is put in cheeselet hurdles. As soon as the curd is put in the hurdles, the whey will begin to drain out. At this stage, salt (optional) is added to the curd. The curd is than turned over so that it will retain the shape of the hurdle. The cheeselets are then put in the refrigerator in the hurdles. After 6 hours the cheeselets can be taken out of the hurdle and will be ready to serve fresh. The cheeselets can also be left to dry. When Fresh bejniet forming dried they are eaten as is, or they can be in plastic hurdles preserved peppered in vinegar.

For a video clips on making bejniet visit:

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